By Claire Rigby
There’s rarely a dull month in São Paulo as far as art is concerned. At any given moment, art lovers lucky enough to be living here or passing through have an immense calendar of world-class exhibitions to choose from. But knocking them all into a cocked hat is is the mighty Bienal, which brings 111 artists to São Paulo from 7 September, lasting right through into December.
I took a tour round the preparations for the immense art exhibition this week – see above, and see below for more about the Bienal, the setting up and what to look out for.
But the teams of workers involved in pulling the Bienal together aren’t the only ones labouring to make September a month to remember in the SP art world. The very existence of the biannual art show is provoking top-notch exhibitions at galleries all over the city, as gallerists scramble to capitalise on the big-hitters in town for the Bienal.
Retrospectives of the works of the late Lygia Clark at Itaú Cultural and the newer star Adriana Varejão at the MAM are some of September’s immediate off-Bienal highlights; and in one of the most exciting developments in the SP art world this year, a team of bright young things, currently racing to have everything ready, from the artworks to the building itself, is about to open the most interesting new art space in town, Pivô.
A brand new not-for-profit exhibition space and art centre, Pivô, whose name means ‘pivot’, is opening inside the majestic Copan building, in the heart of downtown São Paulo, in a formerly empty 3,500-square-metre space it hopes to occupy for many years to come. I took a tour of the building this week and met the people behind it – look out for that in the forthcoming issue of Time Out São Paulo, and see Folha’s photos of the building here.
But I also took a walk around the Bienal building as the setup progressed, plunging into a hive of activity as workers cracked open crates and shifted artworks into place, artists worked on their installations, and one by one, finished exhibition spaces were sheathed in paper to protect them from dust before their unveiling at the opening party on 4 September.
In the image at the top of the page, the superb Bienal building’s sinuously curved balustrades and columns are wrapped in brown paper, to save their surfaces from the rough and tumble of setting up. Look a little closer and you’ll see a slash of yellow along the furthest bannister. That’s the start of an art intervention in the vão, the Bienal building’s towering main space, where instead of a large-scale artwork like the last Bienal’s ill-starred ‘White Flag’ installation by Nuno Ramos, featuring a trio of live vultures, the French artist Olivier Nottellet is creating a building-wide symphony of blocks and lines in white, yellow and black. That’s the artist, above, halting in his painting of the first column to show us his render of the artwork on his phone, created on a miniature model of the Bienal building.
Crates arrive in the building, above, and are opened ready for installation. The artworks inside these sturdy packing crates, 24 in total, were sent from Feroz Gallery in Bonn, Germany, and contain dozens of images by the photographer August Sander, whose ‘People of the 20th Century’ is a sweeping portrait of Germany and its people – 600 of them, as pictured by Sander over five decades at the turn of the 20th century.
With many of the artworks already in place and hundreds of events confirmed, from performances to talks and tours, plus detailed information on many of the nearly 3,000 artworks already in the bag, this year’s Bienal looks to have been a model of good organisation so far, under the stewardship of Luis Pérez-Oramas, the Venuezuelan-born curator of Latin American art at New York’s MOMA.
The team in charge of the archive of the works of the late Arthur Bispo de Rosário, an ‘outsider artist’ who spent most of his life interned in the Colonia Juliano Moreira psychiatric hospital in Rio. Some 350 pieces from the collection of around 800 works, which represent the artist’s entire output, have been brought to the Bienal, where Rosário looks likely to be one of the most buzzed-about artists featured. In 1938, Rosário had a vision of Christ accompanied by seven blue angels, who instructed him to make an inventory of the world, and he did, creating meticulously gripping artworks at the same time. Rosário’s embroidered banners, robes and dozens of objets, wrapped and catalogued and strangely beautiful, have been the subject of laborious restoration by the curators of the Museum that bears his name, inside the Rio hospital where the artist spent the 50 years up to his death in 1989.
Sheathed in gauzy paper through which you can just make out the stunning, unique photographic self-portraits that make up his Bienal show, Nino Cais’s artworks are little masterpieces of the mundane and the extraordinary, drenched in rich, lovely combinations of colour. The São Paulo artist sets up elaborate mises en scène in which he features in mystical poses, his face covered in a proliferation of strange ways, from crocheted doilies and tea towels to pot plants and half-put-on sweaters.